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Still Racing After All These Years (Part VII)     by Butch Kummer

Each year, over the July 4th weekend, the Southeast Division of SCCA hosts a "Double National" points event at Roebling Road near Savannah. Because a driver can run two separate National races with only one set of travel expenses, a lot of cars show up for this weekend that might not make a "normal" National event. But since sitting in a 140-degree oven wearing a triple-layered, ankle-to-neck sweat suit during a 95-degree July day is NOT the most pleasant experience that can be imagined, I had determined early this year that we’d make the trip only if necessary. My fiascos at Road Atlanta in April and June, however, had left me in jeopardy of not being able to qualify for the National Championship event at Mid-Ohio in October. I’ve been dreaming of going to the Runoffs ever since I first attended them in 1971, so roasting in Savannah was the (il)logical choice.

Matters were further complicated by the fact that my trusted crew chief, Mike Hearn, was getting married in Birmingham on Saturday night (his intended OBVIOUSLY didn’t consult the racing calendar before scheduling the occasion). To the rescue came an old friend from Tallahassee (Mike Eakin, who attended those 1971 Runoffs with me) who offered to drive up from Florida on Friday, then trailer the race car to the track on Saturday afternoon. That allowed Harriett and I to attend the wedding and gave me just enough time to make it to Savannah in time for Sunday’s race (we got back from B’ham at 0100 Sunday morning, then I left at 0430 for the track).

Keeping it simple, I arrived in time to qualify eighth out of 34 total cars and fifth of the 11 GT-1 cars entered. I had a minor moment when the throttle stuck as I entered Turn One at 155 mph, but the only damage was a blown out right front tire caused by me locking up the brakes for about 100 yards (that DOES get your attention, however). I moved from eighth to fifth as the green flag waved and held that position for the first four laps of the 23 lap race, but I soon found out that 95 degree weather and (relatively) soft race tires do not mix well. There were times I wasn’t sure the car would make the next corner and my lap times dropped from a best of 1:16.8 to the 1:27+ range -- and 10 seconds on a 2.02 mile track seems like an eternity! I struggled to a sixth place finish in class (and 12th overall), and about the only thing that didn’t pass me was the tow truck on his way to pull someone out of the boonies. I got to experience what it was like when the NASCAR boys talk about "the tires going off", and it WASN’T a lot of fun.

For Monday’s race we bolted on the spare set of tires, softened up the front suspension and decided that being the tortoise would be better than running like a batouttahell and then fading at the end. This time I qualfied 14th overall (ninth in GT-1), but at a pace I thought we’d be able to maintain for 23 laps.

Once we got the green, I moved up a couple of places on the first lap and then settled into a fairly conservative pace to save the tires. I was running seventh in GT-1 behind four "serious" cars that I couldn’t touch on my best day, a Camaro that I knew would fade and a brand new Porsche RSR. Mike was calling out lap times on the radio and they were in the 1:18-1:19 range that we were seeking. As we started lap seven, I drafted by the Porsche on the front straight and then the Camaro drove off into the dirt at the next corner - I’d moved up two places in two turns and was now running fifth in GT-1! Once ahead of the Porsche, I ran just fast (and wide) enough to stay ahead of him in the corners and concentrated on entering the straight as smoothly as possible, confident he didn’t have the top speed to get around me. My laps dropped to the 1:20 range, but I got to the checkered flag fifth in class, sixth overall.

After it was over, the Porsche driver stopped by our paddock area. I thought he was gonna say "nice race" of something, but instead he asked if I’d seen the blue flags the corner workers were holding up for us. Of course I had, but I got out the rule book and asked him the read the portion covering blue flags (it’s an advisory flag - "you are being closely pursued"). Although I DID drive a defensive line, I never did block him (i.e. - I never altered my line once I’d committed to a corner). Besides, we were racing for position. He was still pretty ticked, so I suggested he file a protest and we’d let the officials decide, but he declined with the comment, "if you want to win that badly, I hope you enjoy it".

Duh!

You’re damn right I’m gonna enjoy it. I beat his $200,000 factory race car with a home-built engine in a 15-year old chassis because I drove smarter than he did. After he left (flying back to Ft. Pierce, or whatever passes for Shangri-La these days), the crew he rents from came over and apologized for him, saying that he was "new to racing" and was "really a nice guy once you get to know him". I don’t give a flip if he’s nice guy or not, but it WAS nice of them to confirm that it was just plain good racing.

In addition, my two finishes and nine more points have pretty much locked up my invitation to the Runoffs and I can now concentrate on getting ready for the new car (first run should be a Solo I at Roebling, then the Nationals at VIR and Mid-Ohio). Once we get THAT car running, Mr. Prissy Porsche is gonna have an chance to learn the OTHER meaning of the blue flag:

"The leader is about to blow your doors off. Grab your butt with both hands and HANG ON!".

See you at the track…